By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian offered on Thursday his condolences in connection with the death of Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in an apparent gas poisoning.
Zhvania, 41, was reportedly found dead near a gas heater at a friend's apartment in Tbilisi early in the morning. “It was a gas poisoning,” Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Georgian television.
“Zurab Zhvania made a great contribution to the state-building and strengthening of democracy in brotherly Georgia,” Kocharian said in a letter to his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili. “Also invaluable was his role in the deepening of the centuries-old friendship between our peoples.”
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, meanwhile, cancelled a planned visit to Tbilisi where he was due to attend a major international conference on the South Caucasus. He was scheduled to meet with the Georgian premier late on Thursday. Oskanian was on his way to the Georgian capital when he heard news of Zhvania’s bizarre death.
“Words are not enough to express the depth of the loss,” he said in a statement. “Our effective cooperation with Zhvania has a long history. “Being a broad-minded politician, Zhvania distinguished himself with in-depth knowledge of regional developments and prospects.”
Zhvania was one of the top leaders of Georgia’s November 2003 “revolution of roses” that swept Saakashvili to power. Armenian leaders say the Western-backed popular revolt and the Saakashvili administration’s ensuing crackdown on corruption have had a positive impact on Georgian-Armenian economic ties.
A former protégé of the deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze, Zhvania was born to an ethnic Armenian mother -- a fact which some of his political foes tried to use against him. “Yes, my mother is Armenian and I’m proud of that,” he declared in the Georgian parliament a year ago in response to a query about his ethnic origin.
(GI-Photolur photo: Zurab Zhvania.)